Boris Becker won Wimbledon aged 17. Live Aid changed pretty much everything, and Marvin Gaye’s “I heard it through the grapevine” provided the soundtrack to the most notorious ad, ever.
1950’s small town America. A GI is eyeing up pretty girls. Behind him, a man walks into a launderette carrying a bag of small rocks and pours them into a machine. Slowly, he removes everything but his socks and white cotton boxer shorts. Sunspel boxer shorts. He puts them in the machine. A thoroughly honed physique is admired by all as he takes his seat against the wall. It was a breakthrough advert for Levi’s, cleverly recreating an image of 50s America with wit, sex appeal and a fair amount of nostalgia. As a result Levi’s achieved iconic status in the UK. More interestingly, it had exactly the same impact on boxer shorts.
It was Sunspel’s own John Hill who introduced boxer shorts to the UK back in 1947. So it seems only natural that Sunspel shorts featured in the advert. Until that point the raging marketing battle between the eponymous y-front brief and the army inspired US boxer short was fairly evenly matched. But when Levi’s launched the ad to beat all ads, the boxer short achieved icon status. It was game, set and match.
Featuring a young Nick Kamen whipping off his Levis to stone wash them in a launderette while he stood there in nothing but his white cotton boxers. It was a sensation. Teenage girls across the country fell in love with Kamen. Mary Whitehouse called to have it banned. And the good old white boxer finally sealed its position as a much younger, more attractive underwear choice than the old fashioned brief. That one advert changed underwear history for ever.
Robert Elms, style journalist, author and broadcaster, looks back at that iconic launderette moment:
Before the boy in the launderette, nobody wore boxers. Back in the Eighties, baggy Y-fronts and skimpy briefs, probably in inflammable man made fibres, were the male underwear order of the day.
The model was Nick Kamen, a hip face of the time, and white cotton Sunspel boxers were the inspired choice of underpants, appearing both timelessly cool, and crisply modern. Almost overnight, men who would once have seen boxer shorts as stuffily old-fashioned were clamouring to look like Nick Kamen and buying boxers in their droves. And ever since, a pair of white cotton Sunspels has been the boxer choice of those in the know.